What does Genesis 7:20 mean?
ESV: The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.
NIV: The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits.
NASB: The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered.
CSB: The mountains were covered as the water surged above them more than twenty feet.
NLT: rising more than twenty-two feet above the highest peaks.
KJV: Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.
The previous verse told us that the floodwaters covered all the highest points of the land. In other words, the flood left no bit of dry land anywhere that a person could run to in order to survive the waters. Proponents of a local flood note that the highest points in the Middle East are significantly shorter than those in other places on earth. They also point out that the term used for earth here, 'erets, does not imply the entire globe in the same way as the Hebrew word tebel. The ability to flood the regions inhabited by men to an extreme depth would not have required the same level of covering in uninhabited places.
This verse also gives more specific details about the depth of the waters. According to Genesis, the closest any peak of land under the flood came to the surface of the water was 15 cubits, which is approximately 22 feet or 7 meters. This depth may be important for two reasons. For one, such a depth would have given the traveling ark the ability to float without obstruction above every land mass. Second, such a depth would assure that no human being or animal would have been able to survive the flood, even if they succeeded in climbing to the top of the highest available peak.
God's judgment on all the land-dwelling, air-breathing life would be absolute. Nothing would be left alive that was not inside the ark. In particular, the entire race of men, other than Noah, was destroyed.
Genesis 7:11–24 describes the greatest disaster in world history: the flood. For forty days and nights, rain falls from above, and underground water rushes from below. As a result, floodwaters fully cover the surface of the land for another 110 days. The ark, built as God has instructed Noah, is able to float and survive the deluge. Every land-dwelling, air-breathing human and creature dies, except for those aboard the ark.
Genesis 7 tells the story of the actual flood itself. God again commends Noah for his righteousness. The animals of every kind come to the ark. God shuts Noah and his family and the animals in, and it begins to rain. Water pours from above and bursts forth from below with incredible intensity. This outpouring of water lasts for 40 days, and covers the surface of the earth for another 110 days. The ark floats, rises, moves across the surface of the water. Outside of it, every land-dwelling, air-breathing thing dies. God wipes it all out, including every human being other than Noah and his family.
In chapter 6, God saw the wickedness and violence of humanity and resolved to wipe it all out. He revealed that plan to Noah, and He commanded Noah to build the ark. In chapter 7, the ark is finished, the animals arrive, the door is shut, and the rain begins on a specific date in the history of the world. All life aboard the ark is saved; all land-dwelling, air-breathing life outside of it is ended. The waters burst from below the earth and pour from above with great intensity for 40 days and then covered the earth for another 110. In the following chapter, the ark will come to rest, and the remade earth will begin to dry out.
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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